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Published:  June 15, 2020

By:  Willie Barney, Co-Publisher Revive Omaha

Beyond the Flames:  Why I Believe 2020 is a Turning Point

Where Do We Go From Here?  Transformation 2025

Part II:  Moving to Solutions

Omaha might not be in flames now, but we have a playbook.  George Fraser has called Omaha the Montgomery of the economic rights movement.  Pastor Freddie Haynes calls it the Selma of the next great movement.  They and others believe there are answers in Omaha.

On a personal level, after years of reading, researching and studying solutions, we embarked nearly fifteen years ago on a journey to move the dial and change the trajectory of our community.  Hundreds of organizations and thousands of residents, both youth and adults, have participated.  Both black and white.  Both civilian and police.   North, South, East and West.

I’m hopeful because through collaboration, we have made measurable progress in 8 of 10 key areas.

Through the collective efforts of hundreds of organizations and thousands of residents:

  • Gun violence was decreased by 74%
  • African-American high school graduation rates increased from 64% to 81%.
  • The percentage of African-Americans with a bachelor’s degree increased from 16% to 22%.
  • African-American unemployment was reduced from nearly 21% to 7.5%.
  • Employment for youth increased from 30 summer jobs to over 1,000.
  • The African-American poverty rate was reduced from 33% to 24%.
  • A new grocery store was built, some neighborhood stores were converted and fresh fruit and vegetables were brought to the community.
  • The Affordable HealthCare Act reduced the percentage of uninsured and did not penalize for pre-existing conditions.
  • Major revitalization efforts were launched, securing hundreds of millions of dollars in public/private investments.
  • A new wave of innovative black entrepreneurs is emerging.

One of the most significant areas of progress is the work we’ve done collectively to build stronger partnerships between police and community and begin addressing justice issues.  Body cameras, diversity training, open communication, police diversity and reductions of use of force have resulted from collaboration.  In Omaha, a city of 460,000, there has been one officer involved shooting in the past eighteen months.  Cities across the nation are looking to replicate the Omaha 360, a nationally recognized model.

To be sure, we never thought the work was done.  We know significant gaps still exist. Yet, we also know that it is possible to move the dial.

In 2014, partly fueled by the flames of Ferguson, we made a proposal to accelerate the progress of African-Americans and North Omaha and identified the level of investment it would require. The plan became known as Transformation 2025 Initiative.  It was based on the input of over 8,000 people, implementation of successful projects and aligned with the findings of the Kerner Report and Freedom Agenda.

We secured some initial investments.  We aligned efforts.  We built effective collaborations.  We pushed for large scale investments with specific goals, strategies, initiatives, programs and policies identified.

The areas where we secured funds we have been able to produce tangible, measurable results.  But when it came to the larger proposals, we were told there are no additional funds.

“Where would we ever find that level of funding?”

Omaha can find the funds when it becomes a priority.   Hundreds of millions of dollars for downtown redevelopment.  $140 million for the TD Ameritrade baseball stadium. Hundreds of millions for a new Buffett Cancer Center.  $200 million just approved by citizens to improve streets and the list goes on.  To be clear, these are all great investments for the City of Omaha.  I stand in full support.  They are all needed and benefit the city and region.  However, these investments prove the point: Omaha and other cities can move the dial and we can find the resources to do what we prioritize.

As described by Obama Foundation officials who visited our community, “Omaha is a get it done city.”

We are now faced with the same decision that the nation and city confronted in 1968.

Invest in people or invest in prisons?   Invest in residents or invest in buildings.  Invest in prevention or invest in penalties.  Invest in proactive solutions or civil unrest.

In 2020, what decision will we make?  This is our turning point.

We know how to put out the fire.  I believe that collectively, with the fires raging and in the midst of a pandemic, we will make the right decision.  In the words of Dr. King, “We will finally make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”

As African-Americans, we must unite and do our part.  Support black businesses and businesses in North Omaha.  Vote.  Create generational wealth. Continue reinforcing the importance of education.  Take care of our health.  Work together to address justice and reform.  Engage with the community to address race relations and inequities.  Use all of our gifts and assets.  Partner with allies.

Omaha.  America.  You must do your part.  Listen.  Allow African-Americans and residents from neighborhoods most impacted to lead. Partner and support.  Be an ally.  Implement new policies to reform the justice system.  It is time to invest at the scale of the problem.

Invest in entrepreneurship and access to credit and capital.  Invest in employment, diversity and higher wages.  Invest in safe, affordable housing and mixed income neighborhoods.  Invest in education and high performing school models.  Invest in prevention, intervention, community policing and reentry programs.  Invest to make healthcare accessible and affordable for all.

We can all win.  Let’s design a society and democracy that works for all of its citizens.  The rest of the world is watching.  Will this grand experiment finally and fully become what it can be?  A place where all citizens are spiritually, economically and socially thriving, healthy and prosperous.

In Omaha, the early indications from all sectors is that it will be different this time.  We have the will and the appetite to make this the turning point.  We can put the flames out for good this time.

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Two additional thoughts.  There are other plans that have been developed and numerous individuals and groups who are working diligently on their initiatives, projects, programs and policies.  Our goal is to create a combined plan that we can all work on together and do our part in a collaborative way.

In addition, many individuals, organizations, foundations, businesses and ministries have invested tremendous amounts of time, talent and treasure into various initiatives generating measurable outcomes.  We should pause and recognize these committed partners.  Now, together, we will focus more intensely on wealth, health and ownership.

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Community Features

Atlanta Congresswoman Nikema Williams visits North Omaha

Williams was elected to serve in the district formerly held by the late legendary Congressman, John Lewis

While in Omaha, Williams stopped by Pleasant Green Baptist Church led by Pastor Brian Page for morning services, attended a rally to support congressional candidate Tony Vargas and was the keynote speaker for a luncheon sponsored by the Nebraska Democratic Party and Team Vargas on Sunday, October 30, 2022.

Williams emphasized the importance of voting and mobilizing others to vote.

“Tell your family, friends and everyone you know to get out and vote.”

Specific to Nebraska, Williams encouraged voters to support the $15 minimum wage, reject voter ID and vote for candidates that support health care, voting rights and economic advancement for all.

Her primary message was democracy is not a spectator sport. Everyone must use their voice.

“Your vote is your voice,” said Williams. “This is a vitally important time in our country. Nebraska is a crucial state. That is why I am here. You cannot sit this one out.”

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Careers

Welcome Veta Jeffery, CEO of Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce

Revive Magazine asked some leaders to share their thoughts about the Chambers new CEO and to provide an official welcome to Omaha for Mrs. Veta Jeffery, her husband, Tony and daughter, Toni.  Jeffery officially started her new role in May of 2022.

 

Cheryl Logan
Superintendent of Omaha Public Schools

We welcome Veta to this extraordinary community. The promise of Omaha is fundamental to the success of our students and we look forward to supporting her and the vision of the Omaha Chamber for all who call Omaha home.

 

Pete Festersen
President of Omaha City Council

Omaha City Council President Pete Festersen met Jeffery during her first chamber of commerce board of directors meeting and was very impressed.

“We discussed the huge opportunity that exists right now to address economic development in North and South Omaha. She has a lot of experience with diversity, inclusion and ARPA fund distribution and I am excited to work with her on those issues. Great things happen when business, government and philanthropy work together.”

 

Richard Webb
CEO of Boys and Girls Clubs of the Midlands

“I am excited about Veta Jeffery’s leadership she will bring to the Omaha community. I am looking forward to her leveraging her local, statewide, and federal relationships and experience with internships and recruitment of diverse talent to continue the Omaha community on a path towards success.”

 

Precious McKesson
President of North Omaha Neighborhood Alliance

“Extending a heartfelt welcome to CEO/President Veta Jeffery and her family to Omaha. I am excited to see the ideas and programs Mrs. Jeffery’s will bring to the Omaha market and look forward to working with her to ensure there is an intentional focus on economic and business development in North Omaha.”

 

Dr. Viv Ewing
President & CEO Childrens Square

“Veta Jeffery is a brilliant business and community leader with deep experience in economic development.  She will be a tremendous asset to the OMAHA community. I look forward to her leading a transformation for the city in economic development and engaging young professionals.”

 

Keith Station
Deputy Chief, Diversity and Inclusion, City of Omaha

“Veta Jeffery is exactly what Omaha needs right now; an accomplished, visionary, strategic woman to continue the unprecedented economic development growth of our region. I’m ecstatic that she is a DEI subject-matter-expert, and I look forward to helping her and the family to get acclimated to the City of Omaha!”

 

Aisha Conner
Special Projects and VEC Manager, Empowerment Network

“I would say that with the announcement of the new CEO it shows that Omaha is moving in the right direction.  Circling back to the brain drain it shows that Omaha is being intentional about seeking out talent and diversity. I am excited about what is happening in my city.”

 

Thomas Warren, Sr.,
Chief of Staff, Mayor’s Office

“The appointment of Veta Jeffery as President/CEO of the Omaha Chamber of Commerce (OCC) is historic and monumental.  The OCC serves as a catalyst for business development and economic growth in the City of Omaha and the metropolitan area.  Ms Jeffrey’s background and experience are aligned with the area’s priorities and needs, talent recruitment and retention, workforce development and increasing diversity through hiring and training initiatives.”

“The City of Omaha and OCC benefit from having the support of a very generous donor/philanthropic community.  Ms Jeffery’s skills as a convener will enable her to facilitate public/private partnerships and continue the positive trajectory of our local economy.”

 

Chris Rodgers
Douglas County Commissioner

“I grew up in the St. Louis metro area and her tenure there prepares her to step in and build a business climate that inclusively creates jobs and develop small and big businesses.”

 

Terrell McKinney
State Senator

“It’s refreshing to see that the chamber has hired a black woman to take its organization into the future, bringing her years of experience to Omaha from St. Louis.  I look forward to meeting and working with her in the near future.”

 

Tim Clark
Manager of Community Relations, Metropolitan Community College

This is a serious step towards creating a business community that will become even more intentional when it comes to diversify and inclusion…the Greater Omaha Chamber is key in leading the business community to help strengthen minority and small businesses for start up and escalation.  We welcome the new CEO Veta Jeffery Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce to this place we call the “Good Life”!  We look forward to having the conversations around the alignment Skill training and Associates Degrees that will support Businesses in the Greater Omaha area.

In my opinion strength of a progressive City is how it uses culture and diversity as a strength when it comes to creating vibrant places to live work and place, it becomes very important and I believe right thing to do…The future of the Greater Omaha area is full of Hope and Opportunities!

I was excited when I heard Veta Jeffery was selected to serve as the next President and CEO of the Greater Omaha Chamber.  She is the first woman and first person of color to serve in this role.

It’s inspiring to see Black women getting opportunities to serve in leadership roles. I am sure she will do an amazing job taking the chamber to the next level.

 

Sherie Thomas
Deputy Chief, Omaha Police Department

“I was excited when I heard Veta Jeffery was selected to serve as the next President and CEO of the Greater Omaha Chamber. She is the first woman and first person of color to serve in this role.”

“It’s inspiring to see Black women getting opportunities to serve in leadership roles. I am sure she will do an amazing job taking the chamber to the next level.”

 

Carmen Tapio
CEO of North End Teleservices

Veta Jefferey from a leadership perspective is best characterized by strategic development, broad consensus building and convening public and private stakeholders to achieve business, economic and community outcomes. Her approach and achievements in city government, the financial sector and economic development transfer and align with the innovative, impactful and collaborator leader we sought to be the CEO and President of the Greater Omaha Chamber.

Notable of her many achievements Ms. Jeffrey was appointed by the Governor of Missouri to help bring back and rebuild Ferguson and the business community after the riots.

Ms. Jeffrey brought together public and private partnerships to work together on creating plans and bringing about outcomes. Her ability to do that in a divided community is impressive.

The committee consisted of diverse leaders and was chaired by Leslie Andersen, CEO of i3 Bank, and includes Carmen Tapio, CEO of North End Teleservices, LLC, Mindy Simon, CIO of ConAgra, Clark Lauritzen, Chairman and President of First National Bank of Omaha and Mogens Bay, retired CEO of Valmont. The selection committee was assisted by Korn Ferry, a worldwide leader in executive search.

We worked tirelessly, vetting all candidates and coming to a unanimous and enthusiastic conclusion that Veta Jeffery is the best choice and person to lead the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and to bring further transformational change.

 

Welcome to Omaha Veta Jeffery and family.

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Community Features

Stable Gray, award-winning business open at 24th & Lake

Stable Gray, award-winning, black-owned branding and tech firm, opens at 24th & Lake

Stable Gray was founded in 2015 by CharDale Barnes and Teddy Young to help small businesses build strong brands at affordable prices. The efforts of Stable Gray have evolved from providing a few simple media services, to pioneering some of the most innovative branding solutions in the industry.

“We want to create 8-10 six figure jobs right here in our community,” said Barnes at their grand opening held in July 2022.

The Stable Gray mission is: “to help businesses build the brand of their dreams. We strive to blur the lines between large companies with unlimited marketing budgets, and local small businesses. We help businesses of all sizes develop their brand into ones that look just like the companies we see on tv every day.”

The store front at 24th and Lake is their second location.  They have a production studio located on the Better Together campus.

Revive Omaha would like to congratulate CharDale Barnes, Teddy Young and the entire Stable Gray team on their grand opening at 24th and Lake.

“Stable Gray does outstanding work with branding, marketing, social media and website development,” said Willie Barney, co-publisher of Revive Omaha Magazine.   “They were recognized as small business of the year by the Omaha Chamber of Commerce.  Teddy and CharDale are committed to supporting and investing in the North Omaha community.”

Learn more about Stable Gray

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